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Vicar loses legal battle over fire extinguisher

23 August 2010

The vicar and wardens of a historic church in Lincolnshire have lost a legal battle after three teenagers went on the rampage with a fire extinguisher, causing £240,000 of damage.

The Court of Appeal ruled that even if the church had been specifically warned about the damage that could be caused by the dry powder extinguisher supplied by Chubb Fire, it would still have been bought for the kitchen in the vestry.

Delivering the leading judgment in Chubb Fire v The Vicar of Spalding and others [2010] EWCA Civ 981, Lord Justice Aitkens said three boys discharged the extinguisher in the chancel and along the length of the nave of the “fine medieval parish church” of St Mary and St Nicholas.

“The contents of the dry powder extinguisher settled on many surfaces, covering them with a fine dust,” he said.

“The fabric of the church, its fittings and other contents including, not least, the church organ, all had to be thoroughly cleaned to clear up the mess. The cleaning operation was complex, laborious and expensive.”

Aitkens LJ said Ecclesiastical Insurance, the church’s insurers, exercising their right of subrogation, brought the claim in the name of the vicar and churchwardens.

They claimed in tort that the church was entitled to recover, as damages for Chubb’s negligent failure to warn, the cost of the cleaning and repair work.

A judge at Nottingham County Court found last year in favour of the church and awarded it damages of £240,000 plus interest.

Lord Justice Aitkens said that Chubb accepted that it was under a common law duty to give advice to the church at the time of the supply of the extinguisher.

However, he said that the judge erred in his conclusion that a warning would have made any difference to whether the extinguisher was installed or not.

Agreeing, Lord Justice Longmore said the church had not proved that the “more expensive and troublesome” option of a CO2 and a water extinguisher would have been chosen instead.

Lady Justice Arden agreed that the appeal by Chubb Fire should be allowed.

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